The True Moral Fallacy of #justiceforHarambe

western_lowland_gorilla3 (1)The death of Harambe the gorilla has taken the Internet by storm. If you somehow missed the story, you can find a summary of it here.

It should come as no surprise that animal activists are outraged by Harambe’s death. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition calling for “justice for Harambe,” insisting that the boy’s parents should be held accountable.

The “justice for Harambe” movement is predicated on the concept that all life – human and animal – is of equivalent value.

Most of us, of course, don’t agree. We object to the concept of human/animal equality in a sort of visceral way, without being able to clearly articulate why it’s wrong. “Of course people are worth more than animals,” we say. “It’s just obvious.” Or this: “If it were your child in that enclosure, you’d certainly feel that his life was worth more than the gorilla’s life.”

Many Christians take their reasoning one step further, correctly noting that humans are made in the image of God, while gorillas are not. But few of us can articulate what it means to be made in the “image of God.” As a result, we struggle to explain specifically what is wrong with the “animals are equal to people” arguments making the rounds at the moment.

Upon close inspection, though, the argument that Harambe deserves justice collapses in on itself. In other words, if humans and animals are truly of equal value, then nobody would be insisting on justice for Harambe at all! 

What do I mean by that?

Let’s imagine for a moment that Harambe had, in fact, killed the child. Animal activists, of course, would be insisting that the gorilla was justified. After all, the boy invaded his home! When their environments are invaded, gorillas feel threatened and they rip people to bits. That’s just what they do. There would be no “justice for the boy” movement. Nobody would ask Harambe to go to jail, or pay a fine, or make restitution in any way. After all, he’s a gorilla. The boy and his parents should’ve known better.

But wait a second. Isn’t this a double standard? Why are humans held accountable for killing gorillas, but gorillas are not held accountable for killing humans?

Here’s why: Because we all recognize that humans and gorillas are not, in fact, morally equivalent. We don’t hold gorillas morally accountable for their actions. If they pose a threat to a human being, we restrain them or even kill them, but that’s not a punitive measure. It is a practical measure. The zoo employees who shot Harambe were not trying to punish him or to set an example for all the other gorillas. They were just trying to protect a child’s life.

This is why the concept of “justice for Harambe” contains a deep moral and logical fallacy. The entire movement is built on the premise that people are morally superior to gorillas. Those asking for justice for Harambe recognize that people should be held accountable for moral decisions, but gorillas should not. Gorillas do not have the ability to think morally, even if they have the ability to think rationally.

Let’s imagine another scenario for a moment: Think of the biggest, strongest man you can imagine. Maybe The Rock or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now imagine that the man’s home is invaded by an unarmed 4-year-old child. Would that man be justified in ripping the child to pieces with his bare hands? No? But why not? After all, the child has invaded his home! The man is big and strong and angry and startled – shouldn’t he be able to kill the intruder? Of course not. He would go to jail for that crime. He might even face execution.

We hold the man accountable because we understand that he has the capacity to act morally. He is not driven solely by instinct. He must not allow his size and strength to dictate his actions. We expect more of the man than we do of the gorilla. That is because there is more to the man than there is to the gorilla.

Here’s where we come back to the concept of the image of God. To be made in the image of God is – at least in part – to be capable of reflecting God’s moral character. Because we are made in the image of God, we are called to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16). Humans are superior to animals because we are made in God’s image, and God’s image includes the capacity to make moral choices.

Because Adam and Eve were made in God’s image, He punished them when they disobeyed Him in the Garden of Eden. They didn’t disobey God because they were stupid; they disobeyed Him because they were rebellious and evil. We might call a gorilla dangerous and stupid, or gentle and playful or any number of other things, but we never call it evil. We do not attribute good and evil to animals, because we recognize that they are not morally responsible. Even animal activists recognize that, although they do so unconsciously.

Hence the irony of insisting on justice for Harambe, when we would not ask the same if the gorilla had committed the same offense. People can be evil. We all agree on that. Gorillas, on the other hand, can only act according to the nature of gorillas. They act on instinct. And if that is true, then people are superior. Their lives are more valuable than those of gorillas.

It’s not that gorillas have no value at all. It’s just that their value is less than that of a human being. From a Christian perspective, we recognize that being made in the image of God confers upon us a great deal of value, but also a great deal of responsibility.

While the death of a beautiful gorilla is sad, the waste of a human life is even sadder. While the life of a gorilla might bring us joy for a few years, the life of a human being can last forever.

While we strive to be kind to all of God’s creatures, let’s never forget the eternal nature and immeasurable value of humanity, created in God’s image and redeemed by God’s son.

 

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The Word of God is a Dangerous Thing

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(Hebrews 4:12)

The Word of God is a dangerous thing. 

You and I open it up, hoping to understand God, or maybe to find a little bit of inspiration to make it through another day.

When we open those pages, though, something else happens.

God’s Word opens us instead.

Living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, the Scripture cuts us to the core. The cuts are deep and painful, but redemptive at the same time.

Read it often enough, and we discover something unsettling: we cannot predict or control what God will say to us. And the changes He makes will be deep and painful. But they will also be right.

Our values will be turned upside down. Our self-righteousness will be shattered. Our plans for the future will change.

When we approach God’s Word with open ears and submissive hearts, we will be changed. 

Perhaps that is why so many keep His Word at arm’s length. It’s safer when it’s consumed in small doses at manageable times. It’s less frightening when we simply use it to satisfy our curiosity, or to justify our preconceptions. If we don’t get too close, it won’t open us up.

And that’s a safer approach. But it’s not a better approach.

It’s tragic, in fact, to have access to the very Word of God and yet to never allow it to do its work. Because when we let it transform us, we find something deeply satisfying: His way is better than ours.

Our old values need to be discarded. Our self-righteousness needs to be shattered. Our plans need to change.

His ways are infinitely better, but we resist them anyway. Still, his Word waits for us. Living and active, perfectly good, and powerful enough to change us.

If only we will let it. The process is painful, but the outcome is always good.

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The Biblical Command We Ignore

Philippians_BibleConsider this question for a moment:

What biblical command is so difficult that we don’t merely disobey it, but we also routinely ignore it? 

It’s probably not what you think.

After all, we Christians try to steer clear of sins like sexual lust, gluttony, and drunkenness. When we fail in those areas, we usually acknowledge our sins and ask God for the strength to do better.

Most of us try to avoid dishonesty, gossip, and outbursts of anger. We understand how damaging those sins can be, so we try to avoid them also.

But there’s one biblical command that is so tough that we regularly ignore it, and we sometimes even question whether it’s possible to obey at all. Yet every time we disobey it, we’re committing a sin just as real and damaging as the ones I’ve listed above.

What’s the command I’m talking about?

Rejoice. 

Take a moment to read the verses below:

“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, oh righteous! And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” – Psalm 32:11

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, ‘Rejoice!’” – Philippians 4:4

“Rejoice always.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16

Those are just a sampling of the many, many verses in the Bible that call us to rejoice. Not just to rejoice sometimes, but to rejoice always.

It’s a direct command from Scripture. It sounds like a fun command, actually. Maybe that’s why we tend to view it as a suggestion rather than as a command. After all, who doesn’t want to rejoice? Nobody would choose to lack joy, right? And if we don’t feel like rejoicing, it must mean we have some good reason to be grumpy or whiny, right?

Actually, wrong. The command specifically tells us to rejoice always. Even when we think we don’t have a good reason to rejoice.

“But how?” you ask. “How can I rejoice when I have so many good reasons not to?”

That’s a real quandary. There’s no way to side-step the reality that life can be quite hard. Our relationships don’t meet our expectations, our bodies don’t work like we want them to, our jobs disappoint us, and so on.

Joy seems like a luxury reserved for those who have easy lives. Something for people who don’t have real problems to worry about, people whose lives are all sunshine and roses.

It would be easy to convince ourselves of that, if only it wasn’t the apostle Paul who told us to rejoice. Paul, the guy who was beaten, shipwrecked, ostracized, starved half to death, and imprisoned for sharing the gospel.

How did he do it? How could he possibly rejoice in the midst of all of that? And how can we, even in the midst of all of our problems?

The secret is found in the little phrase that Paul attached to the word “rejoice” in Philippians 3:1 and 4:4.

“Rejoice in the Lord,” Paul wrote. 

Rejoice that God is good. Rejoice because Jesus is alive. Rejoice in the truth that He loves you. Rejoice that you know Him. Rejoice in the fact that He’s coming again to undo sin and death forever.

Even in the middle of your worst day, you can rejoice. There is always, always, always, a reason to rejoice. That’s why Paul says to rejoice always.

Joy is not the same as pretending your problems don’t exist. “Rejoice” is not code for, “Suck it up and paste a smile on that face.” Biblical joy acknowledges the pain of living in a fallen world, but then looks beyond that pain to the hope found in Jesus.

For too many of us, we read the command to rejoice and simply ignore it or disobey it because we find it unrealistic. Maybe we even find it offensive.

“I’m just complaining about my kids because parenting is hard. Don’t tell me I need to rejoice.”

“My job is terrible. My spouse is a jerk. My air conditioner is broken. My cat hates me. How dare you tell me to rejoice?”

But we miss the point when we respond that way. Paul tells us to rejoice precisely because our lives are hard. He tells us to rejoice as a way of reminding us that nothing is more powerful that God. When we rejoice in the Lord, we learn to trust Him. We deepen our faith in His promises and our appreciation for His character. And we encourage others to do the same.

Yes, it’s hard to do. Yes, we don’t always feel like it.

And yes, that’s why we really need to obey anyway. The God who raised Jesus from the dead can gives us the power to do the impossible.

Rejoice. In the Lord. Always.

Shall I say it again?

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Let Down the Nets

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ReDiscovered Word

(Luke 5)

“At your word, I’ll let down the nets,” Peter said.

Having fished all night, having passed the optimal time of day for catching fish, having spent his entire life fishing, Peter knew that Jesus’ idea was a long shot.

On the other hand, he had just listened to the Teacher’s words. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The favorable day of the Lord is here.

What if His words were true? What if this man was God’s promised King? 

“Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing. But at your word, I will let down the nets.” Because it’s you, Jesus. Because you’re the one asking, I’ll take the chance.

Maybe you’ve been there.

“Master, I’ve worked on this marriage. For years. It’s changed nothing. But at your word, I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep praying.”

“Master, I’ve worked on this sin. For my whole life. I know this problem and I know it’s unsolvable. But at your word, I’ll keep fighting. I’ll pray again. I’ll try again.”

“Master, I’ve worked on my brother, my father, my friend, my co-worker. I’ve prayed for them. I’ve told them about You. It’s changed nothing. But at your word, I’ll try once more.”

Peter knew the odds were long. But maybe, just maybe, the odds were irrelevant here. He had heard the Teacher say it: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

So he put the nets out one more time. The catch came in so quickly that he couldn’t haul it shore. The nets began to break, and so did Peter’s self-assurance.

The fisherman who was so certain that the fish weren’t biting was suddenly overwhelmed at how wrong he had been. Only God could usher in such a catch. And that was a terrifying realization.

A sinful man in the presence of God, Peter begged Jesus to go away. But Jesus came here for people like Peter. For people like you and me.

“Do not be afraid,” He said. “From now on, you will catch men.” From now on, you know that nothing defeats the King. You know that the kingdom is at hand. You know that He is Immanuel, God with us. And He will do things so much greater than catching a few fish. People will find eternal life. The Spirit of God will come and live with His people.

Peter thought Jesus’ expectations were too grand. Jesus knew that Peter’s were too small.

When Jesus says to let down the net one more time, let it down. Your experience and objections and fears are no match for the power of God. One more throw and you just might find that He wants to do something bigger than you imagined.

Maybe, just this once, the odds are irrelevant. Maybe, just maybe, He is who He says He is.

You think His promises are too big? Maybe your view of Him is just too small. 

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The Word Became Flesh

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(John 1)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

He was there when God spoke the universe into being, full of power and glory and light, full of everything we think about when we think about God.

The Word became flesh, a child born to an unwed mother, in a tiny town that was mostly known for being the childhood home of a great king from Israel’s past.

In heaven, the angels sang His praises. On earth, He was celebrated by a few shepherds, a rather undistinguished greeting team for the King of the Universe.

He became flesh and dwelt among us.

The perfect Son of God lowered Himself to live in the midst of angry, immoral, disobedient people like us. He became one of us, eating and drinking and sleeping. Like us and yet so deeply unlike us all at once.

The Light shone in the darkness, but the darkness could not comprehend it. He was like us and yet so unlike us that we simply could not understand who He was.

“He who has seen me has seen the Father,” He said. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus, the Word made flesh. He explained God and offered us the right to be God’s children.

The Incarnation of Christ is impossible to fully understand, and yet the Incarnation paves the way for us to understand enough about God to know Him.

As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God. To those who believed in His name. Here in the darkness, we cannot comprehend the blazing light of God’s glory.

But we can believe it.

Full of grace and truth, the Word of God, the eternal Son, came as a child, born to an unwed mother in a tiny town, all so we could know His Father. Truth to reveal who God is, and grace to forgive our sin and lack of understanding.

Grace upon grace.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We may not understand Him, but there is no Life without Him. 

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God’s Image and the Gospel

broken_mirrorEvery human life is made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). Every man, woman, child, and infant carries the potential to eternally reflect God’s glory. Our bodies, minds and spirits are created to shine His light.

For that reason, Christians have always believed that a person’s value is not determined by his or her size, intelligence, physical abilities, race, or gender. 

Each human being is stamped with a permanent price tag, one that simply reads, “Priceless. Made in God’s image.” That is why God defends the defenseless and calls His people to do the same. That is why, when infanticide was common and accepted throughout the Roman Empire, Christians were the ones who rescued and cared for those abandoned infants.

It is why Christians will never agree with the sentiments of men like Princeton University’s Peter Singer, when he says, “The fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings.”

To accept Singer’s logic is to deny the image of God and commit a terrible form of blasphemy. Our value is not defined by our capacities, but by our Creator.

The image of God informs how Christians view all of life. The image of God demands that we care about the weak and defenseless (Psalm 10:17-18; 82:3-4). The image of God means that we cannot passively accept a world in which people discuss the crushing of human babies as an acceptable and routine practice. The image of God means that we cannot passively accept a world in which racial and tribal divisions lead us into a dehumanizing suspicion of those who are different from us (Acts 17:26-29).

That said, the image of God is only part of the story we are called to tell.

While the image of God demands that we defend the defenseless, the gospel calls us to love and pray for God’s enemies. Because only the gospel provides a path by which God’s enemies can become His friends. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that no human being, however cruel, however far from God, is beyond the reach of His grace. So rather than isolating ourselves from those who currently reject Christ, we step right into their midst and share the good news that nobody is beyond the hope of salvation. We share that true life is not found in the pleasures and power of this world, but only in the love and redemption of the One who came to save us.

Because God made each person in His image, He longs to undo the sin that has defaced and broken that image for all of us. He longs to repair everybody to their proper working order. And He gave Jesus to make that possible.

If we are to be consistent in our ethics of life, then, we cannot forget that the oppressed and the oppressor are both stamped with the same price tag. All are made in the same image and all carry the potential to know and reflect God.

In Christ, every person matters. In Christ, every enemy is a potential friend. 

Every single person is made in His image yet broken and rebellious because of sin. And the saving power provided by the gospel is the only power in heaven or on earth capable of raising the dead, saving the hopeless, and transforming enemies into friends.

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The Only King We Need

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(1 Samuel 8, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles)

When will we stop waiting for the next king, the next leader, the next hero to save the world?

When will we learn that kings and rulers will never meet our expectations, or fulfill our deepest hopes? Earthly leaders can never do what only God can do.

Israel never learned that lesson. I wonder if we will.

Like you and me, Israel wanted a leader who would make their nation look good. They wanted a ruler to reflect their values: strength, power, and maybe a little morality thrown in for good measure.

“Give us a king,” they said. “We want to be strong and respected, like all the other nations.”

So God gave them what they asked. They rejected His leadership and made idols out of their kings. And Israel’s monarchy was a disaster, just as God warned them it would be.

Saul, their first king, was power-hungry and godless. His successor David worshipped God, but was violent and deceitful. David’s son Solomon was wise, but his unrestrained lust led the people into idolatry.

Rehoboam’s arrogance split the nation in half. And on and on the cycle went.

There were nineteen kings in northern Israel, and every one of them worshipped idols. There were twenty kings in the southern kingdom, and most of them worshipped idols as well. Even the “good” kings of Judah were often violent, usually arrogant, and sometimes idolatrous.

The root of Israel’s problem was that they did not trust God’s leadership. For nearly 400 years, the people followed their kings into all sorts of evil, until God judged the nation by sending them into exile.

When they returned to the land, after 70 long years, they still clung stubbornly to their hope that a human king would save them.

And all the while, God kept sending prophets to tell them the truth: Only one King could save them. But they never listened.

They kept looking to their leaders, expecting them to do what only God could do.

So God Himself came, clothed in human flesh, to save His people from their enemies and from their sin. Born in a manger, raised by a carpenter, with no palace of His own, He didn’t fit their model of a what a king should be. So they killed Him.

But this King was not like Saul or David or Solomon or any of the others. He would not stay in the grave. He rose again to lead His people to victory and life, to save them from sin and death and Satan, once and for all.

And yet the people kept waiting and hoping for somebody else. Rather than submit to the Savior, they kept looking for a better option.

Will God’s people ever learn that there is no better option? Will His people ever see that there is only one Savior?

The pattern of Israel’s idolatry continues in the hearts of God’s people today. We look to governments and kings to save us. We want them to free us from our national sins and lead us into righteousness. But they won’t. They can’t. Because there is only one Savior.

Are you disappointed in your government? Are you disillusioned by your leaders? Well, that’s not a bad starting point on the pathway to trusting God. Because once we free ourselves from the old and tenacious lie that kings will save us, we become free to trust the only King who can.

He’s a good King. He’s a powerful King. And He will save us. Don’t lose heart, and don’t place your hope in the kingdoms of the world.  

Instead, worship the One True King. Proclaim His glory to those who need to hear.

And wait for His salvation, because He’s coming back soon.

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I Can Tell You of Hope

 

forest-sunrise-1425966-mNote: I posted this on my personal Facebook page earlier in the week and felt it was worth reposting on my blog.

Heavy week. Violence in Baltimore. Marriage debate before the Supreme Court. Natural disaster in Nepal.

All of it seems way above my pay grade, way beyond my capacity to fix or fully comprehend.

That’s why it matters today that God is present, even in the darkest corners of a broken world (Psalm 139).

That’s why it matters today that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, that God’s own Beloved Son made a home among rebels like us (John 1:14). He came because He even loves people I don’t like or understand. He came because He even loves me.

That’s why it matters that the Son who is full of grace and truth humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-11).

That’s why it matters that the same Son rose from the grave three days later, vanquishing death, conquering sin, and offering life to all who trust Him (1 Cor 15).

That’s why it matters that His Spirit is here, right in the midst of suffering, right in the midst of pain, whispering to a broken world, “God loves you” (Rom 8).

That’s why it matters that Jesus is coming back, not only to join our world this time, but to fix it once for all. No more pain. No more tears. No more death or sin or violence or disaster. No more death (Rev 21:4).

I can no more fix the world than I can raise the dead, but I know Somebody who can do both. So what can I do? I can grieve. I can pray. I can try to understand. I can help others with the limited resources God has given me. I can look with hope toward the day of final redemption and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

And I can tell you about the hope found in Jesus, praying you’ll come to know it deeply, through the Spirit of the One who loves Baltimore, Nepal, and even Washington, D.C. He loves His world, and He loves you too.

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Even the Wisest Person

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(1 Kings 11, Proverbs 2)

Even the wisest person can become a fool.

Solomon’s wisdom was vast, but he forgot its Source. He amassed wisdom and wealth and honor, but at some point he started to turn away from the God who gave him it all to him.

His wisdom made him powerful, but his power made him arrogant. He collected wives and concubines and they led him far away from the Lord. Their idolatry crept into his heart and then into the entire nation of Israel.

Solomon’s divided heart eventually resulted in a divided kingdom. Years of war, years of loss, years of idolatry. The wisest man in history made a series of foolish choices, and his nation paid a terrible price.

Wisdom is not a permanent acquisition. It has to be cared for and cultivated or it will fade away. A wise young man might become a foolish old man if he doesn’t pay close attention to his heart.

You and I are always headed toward wisdom or headed toward foolishness. Our paths are largely determined by how well we remember the One who gives wisdom and how faithfully we listen to his Word.

Wisdom shouts in the street and lifts her voice in the square. Wisdom instructs the simple and enlightens the wise. But wisdom only does its work in those who will listen.

When Solomon stopped listening, his wisdom faded. The same can happen to you and me. Or we can pay attention to our hearts and heed the God of wisdom. He loves to give wisdom, and He gives it to young and old alike. But you have to listen.

Even the wisest person can become a fool. But even the foolish can become wise when they hear the voice of wisdom’s Maker.

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The Tomb is Empty, Our Hope is Full

Garden TombThe tomb is empty.

Our hope is full.

The Resurrection and the Life died a criminal’s death, broken and defeated. He lay three days in a rich man’s grave.

The women, his friends, came to honor Him and to anoint His body. They came to remember the man they loved. But He was gone. In place of His dead body they found two angels, shining and bright and alive.

“Why do you seek the living among dead? He is not here. He is risen.”

The angel’s statement was shocking, but they knew it was true. They knew in their soul that Jesus could not die forever. As soon as they heard the news, they ran to tell the disciples.

He’s alive!

The tomb is empty.

Our hope is full.

The disciples could not believe it at first, but once they did, everything changed. They ran to tell their friends, to tell their enemies, to tell the world. The word spread among the Jews, the Greeks, and the pagans. Death was defeated and life had come.

For years to come, for hundreds and thousands of years to come, death would stalk God’s people. But death would never have the sting it used to.

When Jesus broke out of that tomb, death itself was broken. It wasn’t only the stone He rolled away. He also rolled away the hopelessness of those who dwell in the shadow of death, yet who long for eternal life.

When we shout, “He is risen,” we also shout our own resurrection.

“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” he said. “He who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Because He rose, we will rise. Death cannot claim forever those whose hearts are attached to His.

Jesus destroyed our great enemy when He burst out of the tomb early one Sunday morning. And now the one who believes will live to see the day when death is forever undone, and those who sleep in their graves will emerge into the shining light of the Author of life.

The tomb is empty.

Our hope is full.

Death is defeated.

Life is victorious.

Jesus is risen.

He is risen indeed.

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